Why Modern Sales Leaders Manage Activities (Not Results)

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Can you imagine an Olympic track coach telling a sprinter that to win the race, he simply needs to run faster?

Of course not. But that’s exactly what sales leaders do when they tell reps to “just close more deals.”

The track coach has athletes do practice runs, then jog in place to warm up before a race. The coach explains how the runners can lift their knees high to reach top speed, land their feet properly to push off to the next step and breathe effectively to get the most oxygen.

The coach trains an athlete on the activities that will help them run better. And so it must be with the modern sales leader. It’s imperative that we manage and motivate our sales reps around the activities that lead to closing more business. Let me explain why.

3 Reasons Activity-Driven Management Works

1. You can’t manage business results.

Wins, revenue, profit and other names you use for “closing deals” are outcomes – lagging metrics that cannot be controlled, or at least require customer consent to make them happen. Because of that, they are by nature unmanageable. There’s research to prove it. Think of it this way: If you could actively manage revenue, wouldn’t you hit quota every quarter?

The good news is that you can manage your team’s selling activities – leading indicators – which are controllable and affect your business outcomes. These are things like calls, talk time, face-to-face meetings, ROI presentations, VP-level conversations, demos completed and proposals sent.

Key selling activities are unique to every sales team and selling role. A series of actions that lead to closing business for one team may not work for another. That’s why you need to define your key selling activities and map out how they form your sales process. Then you can start to manage your team around sales activities they can control – which will then lead to results.

2. Managing activities creates proactive sales managers.

At first, managing sales activities seems tedious. Do sales reps really need to be told how to do their job? Even just the idea of tracking sales activities feels intrusive and bears the odor of micromanagement.

In their book, “Cracking the Sales Management Code,” Jason Jordan and Michelle Vazzana argue that tracking the activities of sales reps actually leads to proactive management.

It makes sense. By providing your reps with instructions on how to navigate a sale (your key selling activities), you’re setting them up for success. You’re providing reps with clear directions, instead of letting them take a trial-and-error approach to close business.

Activity-based sales management enables better coaching. When reps aren’t making quota, sales managers can look at activity data to understand why. Let’s say your reps close 50 percent of the deals that make it to the proposal stage, but one rep only closed 2 out of the 4 deals she needed to hit quota. You know that she should have sent out 8 proposals. Now you can coach that rep on bringing opportunities to the proposal stage.

You can also consistently onboard reps faster with an objective set of metrics. Hire a sales rep, let them know what their quota will be in a couple of months, and provide them with the activities that will get them there. They spend less trying to figure out your sales process and more time getting ramped and making sales. One of our clients, Paycor, has done this and their analysis showed that their sales reps are getting fully ramped and hitting quota in half the time they used to; plus, far more of them end up being successful which leads to less sales rep churn.

3. Better sales management leads to higher goal attainment.

A proactive sales manager is much better than a reactive one. And better sales management leads to higher quota attainment.

In a study of global B2B sales teams, Vantage Point Performance found that the top quarter of sales managers performed at 115 percent of their target. That was also 39 percent greater than the target achieved by bottom-performing managers.

So what do we know? Revenue can’t be actively managed, but sales activities can. Tracking sales activities leads to better sales management. And better sales management leads to higher target achievement. The case for managing sales activities is clear. Let’s be Olympic track coaches and make sure our athletes come in first.

  • Mike Weinberg

    I appreciate the objective of this article, but also have significant issues with this it. Sure, on the surface it makes sense. But sales is about results. And managers who lead by managing activity tend to micromanage and reduce the heart-engagement of sellers. In Chapter 20 of Sales Management. Simplified. I lay out a highly effective “sales management accountability progression” and the reasons why RESULTS then PIPELINE then ACTIVITY is the best way to increase accountability without micromanaging. The process for leading formal, results-focused 1:1 sales manager-salesperson that I advocate has had a transformative effect on sales results in companies that implement it.

    And before you start throwing bombs, please don’t put words in my mouth. No where am I saying that monitoring activity is not important. It’s hugely important. I’m all about a high-frequency sales attack and regularly preach that “the math works.” The seller who turns over more rocks creates more opportunities. But leading with activity management is not a recipe for creating the type of healthy, high-performance sales culture that drives results for the long-term or keeps top talent onboard. If you get a free minute, pop over to Amazon and scan the reviews for Sales Management. Simplified to get the reaction of sales leaders who’ve read and implemented the framework I suggest.

    • Chris Beall

      I fundamentally agree with you, Mike – and I run a company that amplifies activity (dials and conversations) – by a lot. We even have a name for going lots faster without heart-engagement plus attitude and a bit of skill – “amplifying suck”. The math does work, in that a drill bit that spins faster makes holes faster; but if the bit is sufficiently dull the only difference between fast and slow is how much whining you get to listen to.

  • There’s a lot of great content and intent here (love the Olympic metaphor), but like @mikeweinberg:disqus, I have some differences of opinion. My most successful approach to activity management has been ROAM — what Result is the rep getting, how does this compare to their Objective and is there a gap, if so what Activities is the rep doing (which ones and how much of each), and what are the Methods (sales methodology and skills) being used (aka, the quality of the execution of the Activity). For anyone interested in more information, you can see these slides: http://www.slideshare.net/MikeKunkle/training-coaching-greater-sales-productivity-11162016 or watch this webinar: http://bit.ly/TrainCoachProductivity

    • bobby slay

      @mikekunkle:disqus You sent like 90 tweets yesterday.. LOL Man U one busy dude…